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What we're seeing



Cultural Districts and Urban Workshops

Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA

Different but equally important

Cities and their broader economic regions are beginning to recognize once again the importance of creating neighborhoods that can readily attract, develop, and export robust economic activity and offer a high quality of life. These types of considerations are particularly important to regions that historically have been tied to large single industries, whether it is cars (Detroit), steel (Pittsburgh), government (Washington, DC), or military (Hampton Roads). Creative cities that foster a wide variety of industries provide the sort of robustness to changes in the market that regions require. Building creative places, therefore, is of citywide and regional significance to ensure continued economic competitiveness and resilience. 

But some confuse building creative places with building cultural, arts-focused districts. While both are equally important, they represent two distinct paths should a creatives-driven urban regeneration strategy be pursued: The Cultural District or the Urban "Workshop."

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Andrew Zolli Introduces Resilience


New Rules for the New Frontier

Braddock, east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Community building in the United States is on the verge of something special. As we observe trends in economy, demographics, energy consumption and cultural prefernces, we see the outlines of a New American Frontier slowly emerge from the settling dust of the Great Recession. Recent observations about New Brainard, New Hope, and North Adams all describe places with the potential to be prototypes, (re)discovering the value that small and midsize cities can bring to our economies, quality of life, and natural environment. Acting like startup companies, these towns are on the forefront of innovation, of trial and error, and productivity. They are large enough to matter but small enough to be affected by change. Individually, their margins today may be small, but they are sustainable; and taken together, their market potential is enormous. We have come to call them Investment Ready Places

Like small businesses and startups, communities pushing into this New Frontier exhibit specific entrepreneurial personality traits. In her post about New Hope, Jennifer Krouse outlines some critical ones:

Openness, creativity, social capital and an experimental mindset are important assets. But mustering those assets is not enough; we have to deploy them.

"[Deploying] them" is the operative phrase. Our current finance, regulatory, and development regimes have calcified and must be shaken up to move once again toward a stronger, more prosperous state. Like all great startups, Investment Ready Places have the ability to redefine development philosophy and dismantle some of the dogmas that have precipitated failure in our cities. We can once again tap into a deeply-rooted town building culture that builds upon inherited patterns for creating dynamic, resilient, affinitive places. 

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Artful Intelligence: Exploring Phylogenetic Smart Patterns 

We live in the age of BIG data. With ever-more-complex algorithms analyzing global flows of goods, services , capital, weather and  information itself, we are constructing new power structures where some of our most critical decisions are being made completely by machines.

At the same time, the world around us is becoming less predictable with every passing day. This unpredictability confronts us through various channels, be it drastic climate change, global economic meltdowns or widespread political instability, to name a few.

This unprecedented juncture presents a curious question: "What is the nature of rules that have stood the test of time?"


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Walkscore and Taxes

Walkscore's "Heat Map" showing walkability in Pittsburgh (green being the most walkable zones).

Encouraging value creation by focusing on productivity

In the 18th and 19th centuries, many European countries implemented a tax on windows, or a glass tax, as an alternate means to generating revenue (income tax, at the time, was seen as too intrusive to privacy and an infringement on personal liberty). While perhaps politically more viable, it had unintended costs and consequences. Ultimately, after a couple hundred years, it was repealed with the realization that this was effectively a tax on light and air. This seems fairly obvious in retrospect. 

Like the window tax of previous centuries, we may soon realize that our current municipal and county tax policies short-changed us on livability factors just as critical as light and air. Consider, for instance, that a higher Walkscore has been shown to increase property values. This is great for demonstrating the value of living in compact, walkable, mixed-use environments. It is less successful at providing clear tax benefits for neighborhoods to increase value through improving Walkscore or pursuing other investments as doing so actually results in a tax penalty. This is backwards. Will we one day look back at this tax regime and call it the walkability tax?

We need a new model. Rather than assessing value, we must move to a system that assesses productivity. Doing so removes the penalty in creating value and has the potential to drastically change the conversation about how we develop and invest in our neighborhoods, towns and cities. 

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